COLUMN: The hopes and fears of all the years

Published 4:35 pm Friday, January 5, 2024

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Sometimes what any of us might need is a timely pastoral word. Now, pastors can’t counsel you on problems they don’t know you’re having. Our feeble clairvoyance will fail us every single time in this year and the next. 

We may hear that we’ve let someone down. Turns out, though, that if they didn’t tell us what they were struggling with, then we couldn’t very well accompany them. Could we? 

But as John conveyed God’s message of resolution and hope in Revelation 21: 1-6, he knew to whom he was writing. Life for first century Christians was tough, and that’s an understatement. They were trying to be faithful to God while exploring this brand-new expression of their faith through Jesus Christ. 

On the other hand, they were held to an expectation of allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire, including the notion that Caesar was a deity himself. That’s right. If you were a Roman citizen and you wanted to worship, nothing was supposed to take more of your focus than your emperor, Caesar himself. 

There were corruptions, pressures, interventions and interferences that were all making life complex as the Bible wrapped up with John’s Revelation. Things were layered deeply with complication. Nothing could be easy.

We are not free of similar pressures, tugs and sometimes downright hard circumstances as people of faith who try to be loyal to our God. We are often pressured in so many ways by the people in our lives, including pressure to do things that run directly contrary to Jesus’ own life and teachings.

Messages, biases and opinions that you couldn’t square up with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ reach your ears and mine every day of our lives. We watch as friends and family alike succumb to being less than the Jesus of their Salvation called them to be, because selling out started to look like something other than selling out.

As we initiate a brand-new year, we stand in an interesting place. Slightly less than a week or so ago, many of us sang “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Yet we acknowledge that there is nothing magical about the approach of a new year that will suddenly cause all to be well. 

We glance toward Ukraine and Israel, and we could be pardoned for wondering if our hope and fears have indeed been met in Jesus. We see what humanity can do to each other and we ponder what might bring us back toward a life guided by our better angels. 

But John, the preacher of Revelation, says that good is coming. Actually, John says that God is coming. A new heaven and a new earth are ahead. A day when there will be no more death, no more tears, no more war, no more divisions. no more pain and no more self-pity.

Sound like a lot? Is something making you unsure as you turn the calendar’s page? God says write down these words that are trustworthy and true, “Behold, I am making all things new!” That is the good that is coming.

Writer Minnie Louise Haskins described the way of faith thusly. “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light so that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” 

Here is where I come out. I’ve seen God make just enough good already to believe that God really is making everything new.

I’ve seen God show up later than we wanted, but always right on time. I’ve come to believe that it might not be fast enough to suit us, but God really is faithful on a timetable that usually seems right, but only in hindsight. 

God is making all things new. But over all of that, we truly have little control. The only things we can control are how faithful and obedient we will be. How willing we will be to trust. Among the only things we can control might also be how much we’ll emulate Jesus in this new year. 

Right now, right here, let us be Jesus to someone who needs us. Let us be the presence of Jesus for each other. Let us engage this new year with courage and claim Jesus afresh and anew.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.